Photo from Team Philippines Street Child World Cup's Facebook page
MANILA, Philippines – The stories of these brave footballers are both heartbreaking and inspiring.
The Philippines-Payatas team – an all-girls football squad composed of players from Payatas, Quezon City and other partner organizations from different provinces – recently competed in the Street Child World Cup in Moscow, Russia.
Despite falling just a rung short of a podium finish, the team headed by Englishman Roy Moore of the Fair Play for All Foundation in Payatas said the results were secondary and the long-term development of the girls was more important.
The squad defeated India 6-0 and drew England 1-1 to reach the quarterfinals, where they topped Maritius 1-0. That set up a semifinal with Brazil, the 2014 champs. The South Americans won 1-0, relegating the Pinays to a third-place playoff, where they unfortunately fell to England 2-0.
But the team, perhaps, got a bigger prize. After receiving support from Nivea, the girls also received scholarship offers from the Kulczyk Foundation.
During the homecoming event last Saturday, May 26, in British School Manila, Moore couldn't be any more proud of the 9 girls and one coach who showed a gallant stand on and off the field.
In the interest of their privacy, the last names of the players have been withheld upon the request of the organizers.
Angela is 16, yet has the confidence of one much older. The footballer from SOS Children's Village in Davao has an easy smile and a carefree demeanor that masks a troubled past.
Angela and her 7 siblings were left to the care of SOS since her parents, saddled with substance abuse issues, split up when she was 12 years old. Being the eldest, Angela says she served as a surrogate parent for the younger kids. Her father is in jail, and she has no contact with her mother.
Angela, who has a twin sister named Angelie, was heartened to connect with other street children from around the world.
“Nalaman namin na hindi lang kami ang nagsu-suffer, marami din palang iba,” says Angela.
(We found out that it wasn't just us who were suffering, others also.)
According to Angela the Pinays developed a special affinity with the Bolivian and Indian teams, despite requiring sign language to communicate.
Angela was voted captain by her peers and was solid on the pitch, assisting one goal in the win against India.
But there is more to this young lady than football. Russia is not her first time to represent the country. Last year she was part of the Philippines U17 Sevens Rugby national team that played in Dubai. They also teach rugby in SOS.
“Sila ang nagturo sa akin na disiplinahin ang sarili ko, at na-aaply ko sa daily life ko,” she says of her rugby experience.
(They taught me how to discipline myself and apply it to my daily life.)
Angela has big dreams. She says she wants to take Political Science when she enters university in preparation for a law degree. Her targets for law school: Ateneo or San Beda.
Althea and Regine, 14 and 16, are from Payatas, where Fair Play Foundation is situated. Althea says their mom has a job in a call center now, but her father has intermittent construction work.
They both grew up helping their father with what they call “bulasi,” or collecting scrap plastic from the dumpsite, bundling the pieces up, and selling them for P300 a kilogram.
The sisters also had another novel way of coming up with extra cash. They would collect discarded pieces of wood, burn them, and gouge out the nails. A bunch of nails could then be sold for P20. Anything to help a family of 6 kids in a tiny “barong-barong” (shanty) home.
Seven years ago football came into her world when Fair Play for All began operating. It's been part of their lives ever since.
“Kinalakihan na namin ang football,” says Regine. (We grew up with football.)
Both girls are so talented that they have attracted inquiries from schools and teams to play for them.
Regine scored a hat trick against India. But Althea was also a star in Russia, a fitting rebound from her last stint in international football, with Marielle Benitez's U16 team last year in the AFC championship in Laos. She traveled with the team but was unable to play because of injury.
But this time, in Russia, Althea would not be denied her turn in the spotlight. A girl who once collected nails for extra money was holding a different form of metal after the tournament was done: the Best Defender Trophy in the 2018 Street Child World Cup.
Ronalyn Lagata, experienced her second SCWC in Russia. Four years earlier she was a player, now she was the head coach.
Lagata started scavenging for sellable trash at the age of 9 and at times literally slept on the streets of Payatas since her family had no electricity.
Her family had a junk shop, usually a marker of relative prosperity in Payatas. But with 11 kids to feed, the profits needed to be spread thinly, and the family struggled.
Last Saturday she spoke about picking up cuts and wounds on her arms and hands while scavenging, and not being able to medicate them.
“Sa amin hindi use ang gamot. Huhugasan mo na lang ang sugat.” (Where I come from it isn't common to use medicine, you just wash the wound.)
Listen to her tell her life story here:
Lagata has only recently completed senior high since her schooling was interrupted on more than one occasion while growing up. She hopes to enter university and play varsity football if all her paperwork gets sorted out.
The coach kept it fun and loose in Russia, allowing the girls to make decisions for themselves on the pitch and mostly offering praise from the sidelines.
But after the matches Lagata was also called on to organize the many off-field activities and cultural presentations that are always a part of the SCWC.
“Naubos ang English ko,” she admits with a smile. (I ran out of English.)
Lagata has taken the coaching courses offered by Fair Play but also hopes to get a C license to further her coaching education.
Her future is bright, just like those of the 9 girls in the squad. Football brought them to Russia, and hopefully, beyond. – Rappler.com
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.